Review: Personal Best – Arnos Vale

The sun’s coming out, everyone’s feeling less gloomy and summer seems like it’s just around the corner. Sounds like the perfect time for a new Personal Best record to come out, yeah? Well, you’re in luck – Arnos Vale is out this week and it’s absolutely cracking.

Of course, that’s to be expected with the melody-wrangling superteam that is Katie, Tom and (at the time of recording) Lou, who have an impressive back catalogue of hits from their time in Bedford Falls, Attack Vipers and Caves respectively. It starts out strong with ‘If You Meet Someone In Love’, which instantly hits you with a wall of full-on riffage and perfect singalong opportunities. Katie’s vocals strike the perfect tone, and it’s impossible not to join in. Perhaps that’s the most impressive thing about Arnos Vale – at every step of the way, you kind of feel like you’re part of the gang, and that’s what music should be all about. It’s impossible not to relate to tracks like ‘Human Nature’ or ‘This Time Next Year’, and it makes you want to pick up a guitar or a drumstick yourself. After all, if being in a band can be as fun as Arnos Vale makes it seem, why aren’t we all doing it?

For all the brilliant chorus-and-riff bangers, Personal Best are not afraid to get a little weird in places either. The verses in ‘Poor Old You’ are backed with this brilliant, spidery riff and ‘This Is What We Look Like’ has a real grungy chorus with some fantastic distortion. Arnos Vale gives everyone a chance to try out something a bit different to their usual projects, and although the record has some super 90s vibes, it still sounds totally fresh and completely unique.

Arnos Vale is an absolute gem of a record. Unflinchingly honest and often beautiful, Personal Best have put together 24 minutes of solid joy. It’s super posi-indie-pop and it makes no apologies for it. Although Lou will be moving on to different things, there’s no doubt that the next Personal Best record will be just as fun. However, for now, know that Arnos Vale exists and the planet is far better for it.

4.5 out of 5 high fives!

Ten Hardcore Bands That Do Actually Get It

I posted an article last week about misogyny in hardcore and just the general lack of respect for fellow human beings that’s running rampant throughout the scene at the moment. There’s certainly a lot of that going on. In honesty, my piece refers mostly to the mainstream – the branch of particularly popular hardcore bands that are dominating the magazines and the social networks at the moment. There’s a lot of bands out there that aren’t subscribing to this at all, that are striving for a community again, that are promoting a very healthy attitude at shows and through their music. Loosely based around the hardcore genre, but with a smattering of punk and metalcore, this is just ten of those bands promoting a better future for the scene. There’s a few more mainstream and a few more underground acts here, and these are the people we should be throwing our weight behind.

1) Finish Him!
Our favourite Coventry partycore lot know what’s going down. A Finish Him! show is always a ridiculously fun experience for everyone – everyone gets involved, everyone keeps each other safe. You’re far more likely to end the set in a massive group hug than with a punch in the face (although that’s mostly just to keep yourself standing after some intense moshing!). And many of their song names are references to classic kid’s shows and video games, which is always a bonus.

2) We Came As Romans
Everyone’s new favourite synthy metalcore band, they don’t have a bad word to say about anyone. Their albums are all about positivity, and their recent slot on the Take Action tour in support of the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign couldn’t paint them as any more angelic. If you’re ever feeling down, listen to Understanding What We Came To Be and you’ll instantly feel better about life.

3) Parkway Drive
Okay, ‘Romance Is Dead’ might be about wanting to choke the life out of a former loved one, but we can all say we’ve had those moments at one point or another. Otherwise, Parkway Drive take their anger out on more noble causes, such as our rampant destruction of the Earth. Atlas is all about the potential demise of our planet if we don’t buck up our ideas. Parkway are also massive fans of the circlepit, but only if you treat each other with respect. And we will, Winston and co, we will.

4) iwrestledabearonce
Ever been to an IWABO show? You’re doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t. Me and Kate threw many a pencil sharpener and a few egg and spoons the last time we were in the general vicinity. It’s also super rad to see such an incredible female vocalist in play in both cases – Krysta’s screams were utterly sublime and I figured there’d never be anyone who could replace her, but Courtney has done pretty admirably, bringing just as much flair and insanity to their live presence as Krysta did. It’s pretty hard to make out exactly what they’re saying though sometimes, so pick up a lyrics booklet and appreciate.

5) The Smoking Hearts
Victory! is a great record. It’s a real snapshot of life in the 2010s, but without subscribing to the bullshit. There’s plenty of stuff in there about standing up tall and rising above, but THS aren’t afraid to party on down with the rabble either. Sick guitar solos aside, THS bring it in every way possible in a live format, but while being perfectly pleasant to everyone around them. Top lads.

6) Sick Of It All
Have you ever listened to a Sick Of It All album and thought ‘well, I can see where they’re coming from but I just can’t identify with this in any way, shape or form’? I thought not.

Skatepunk enthusiasts DARKO blend the Duracell bunny energy of that 90s sound with technical hardcore for an unbeatable thrill ride. From Trust To Conformity has a lot of anger and frustration in it, but it’s pointed in all the right directions, and a lot more poetic than you might first think. Get listening, get excited.

8) Attack! Vipers!
I literally can’t express my love for Attack! Vipers! enough. Completely standup guys with an explosive live show (high risk of human pyramids included) and stupidly talented musicians to boot. Feeling bad about popular hardcore and its shitty attitude? Have a scroll through the Attack! Vipers! Tumblr page and you’ll see posts speaking out against discrimination and injustice, in the scene and wider. Great stuff.

9) Empire
Shedding Skin is a slice of crashing, beautiful melodic hardcore. The desolate landscapes that it describes and the feelings of discontent and fear are ones that are applicable to all of us. Back in the early 2000s, most of the bands doing this kind of thing were writing songs crying about how girls had wronged them. Empire take a far different approach and we love them for it.

10) Not Right
Definitely more punk than hardcore, but it’d feel wrong to write a piece about solidarity and community without including Not Right. Queer riot grrl noise with a focus on trans issues, general activism and, in their own words, “the politic of people before profit”. And well, they definitely play loud and fast enough to fit in on this list.

Crash Doubt Festival – The Showroom Lincoln, 2/6/12 [pt 1]

After a very successful first year, Crash Doubt returned to the deepest and darkest depths of the North (well… at least on the very rainy Sunday) for another go. Hosted in The Showroom in Lincoln, the punk and hardcore fest was a beautiful interruption to the Jubilee weekend.

Before I get into the bands, I have to stress how well organised the whole weekend was. Bands rarely overran or came on late, the stages were laid out well, the merchandise section was fantastically managed and the bar wasn’t too overpriced. The venue, a conference centre combined with a youth centre, was a great space to host in. If only half of the festival-goers spent more time in the venue checking out the bands than out in the car park.

Saturday started out strong. We got to the venue just in time for Climates (3.5/5), whose particular variety of melodic hardcore was good fun. The vocalist, who looked a little bit like Parkway Drive’s Winston McCall, had a great tone to his voice and the band as a whole sounded brilliant for one of the first on. Following them up on the Time Will Tell stage were Fair Do’s (3/5), a local Lincoln pop-punk band. Tinged with posicore, they were fun and bouncy but they wore all their influences on their sleeves. Nevertheless, with their sense of fun and a little more development, they should be going places. Up on the Punktastic stage, Tim Van Tol (3.5/5) regaled us all with his solo folk punk. Reminiscent of sea shanties at times, some gruff and soulful acoustic fare did everyone some good (and Kitteh thought he looked a bit like Varg from Burzum).

Watch Commander (2/5) were fairly boring melodic punk rock – their songs had promise but failed to hit the mark. However, Attack! Vipers! (5/5) were nothing short of incredible. One of the most impressive hardcore bands coming out of the UK right now, their performance was intense, exciting and completely involving. If Attack! Vipers! play near you, don’t ever miss them. Moral Dilemma (2.5/5) weren’t really to my taste – abrasive punk rock that sounded all the same. It’s difficult to write good punk in the old style these days and while their overall performance was reasonably solid, I still found their set dull. Bangers (4/5) are proof that musical evolution often wins out and their gruff punk anthems rang out loud and clear on the Punktastic stage. There were awesome singalongs, sweet hooks and some actually very cleverly written instrumental sections. You can still be a musician in a punk band; Bangers will show you how.

Back downstairs on the Big Cheese stage, The Smoking Hearts (4/5), along with a guy who was either so wasted or on some variety of pills, showed us all how to party. Admittedly, they played fairly standard hardcore stuff – nothing new, but it was tight and they were batshit insane. Lots of jumping, some rolling around and potentially broken elbows – that’s how it should be done. Demoraliser (1/5) clearly didn’t observe how The Smoking Hearts did it and were truly the first of a few identikit hardcore bands we managed to stumble upon. They may have been local heroes but their breakdowns were so subpar, the vocals had no tone to them whatsoever and they sounded like a Terror ripoff without any of the brutality. Hang The Bastard (4/5) are how you should do hardcore, in comparison – terrifyingly. There are no other words. And yet the man in the khaki balaclava wasn’t the most intimidating thing all weekend. That accolade belongs to Woody from POLAR (4.5/5). While POLAR’s set was impressive, it was distracting to see a guy who looks like he has rabies push a crowd around because “if [you] don’t move, [I’ll] fucking move you”. Highly counter-productive to crowd involvement, but nonetheless, a stellar performance from one of the UK’s most exciting new bands. Heights (3.5/5) struggled to follow suit but their crowd involvement was certainly better. Their sound was less intense and more dirgey – the doom influences in their music rang loud and clear but still remained full of desperation.

And we finished off the night with No Trigger (3/5). I’ve been waiting to see No Trigger for a while, ever since I was bowled over by Canyoneer. To this day, it’s one of my favourite records. But I found No Trigger to be a bit… well, flat. There was plenty of enthusiasm but it just felt like there was something lacking. Might have been a levels thing, might have been an end of tour fatigue, but it just didn’t ring true. It didn’t end my night on a total downer though because they played Owner Operator and that put a fairly big smile on my face.

So, Saturday was pretty damn sweet. Sunday’s writeup to follow!

Live: Attack! Vipers! – Kelsey’s, Leamington Spa, 14/1/11

The Leamington scene has been under threat lately. With the closure of Spayce, the last venue that wouldn’t charge extortionate amounts to the promoters, it looked like there was little hope for us. Laurence and Move To Leamington put on a show or two in his house (such as the RVIVR show last year that was epic) but it’s just impractical. However, tonight saw a kind of revival as student bar Kelsey’s offered the top floor for a night of punk rock. It was, to say the least, an interesting evening.

First up were Lineker (who I sadly can’t find a link for online!), a band clearly named after the Walkers man/popular ex-footballer. One of the other bands made a joke that they should put out a split with a band called Gascoigne. It would probably be a stellar release. Apparently one of their first shows as a new band, they performed well! Pretty gruff stuff but not too heavy. Hopefully, they should be playing more shows near here soon.

Cannons And Tanks were up next and as always, were bloody great. Having caught them with RVIVR last year, it’s safe to say they’ve definitely pulled it all together now to form a much tighter unit. Matt thought they sounded a little bit like Small Brown Bike, which is probably obvious from the name. If you like that kind of stuff, then Cannons And Tanks are most definitely for you. It’s music from the heart and it sounds awesome. At the end of their set, they threw in a cover of Waiting Room by Fugazi. From the opening bass riff, I was apprehensive. I am not a huge fan of covers and to even touch Fugazi is usually asking for trouble, but it was actually a pretty impressive attempt and I can’t wait to hear more from these guys.

Caves had a bit of a mixed bag going here. The beginning and end of the set were both excessively awesome, with those awesome pop melodies shining on through, but the middle of the set was a little lacklustre. However, it was still a very good performance. Caves just have this awesome energy, as if they could play all night, and it definitely transfers into the crowd. Some of the oldies there were getting very excited. The new material sounds pretty good and they have a new CD out soon – check back here for details.

Section 13 were very average. Although the majority of the audience were there to see them, they were the worst band on the bill. They play an 80s brand of hardcore which is just impossible to make original. Were they playing that kind of stuff back then? Probably, but if that’s the case, then it’s time to move on. The highlight of the set was possibly the weirdest moshpit I have ever seen, as old dudes in tartan collided with lager louts in a kind of slow frenzy. When I have lost the jadedness of youth and am old and enthusiastic, then I’ll mosh like that. Until then, I’m content to remain vaguely hipster-esque with my arms folded and the occasional toe-tap. They might have done covers, but I couldn’t really tell.

So, hooray forAttack! Vipers! who were just incredible! This is brutal hardcore at its best and a fine example of what’s coming out of England right now. A combination of intense growls and great melodies, they could be likened to early Fight Paris but way more brutal. A great crowd reaction was almost as entertaining as the band themselves – human pyramids and what can only be described as dizzy dinosaurs with almost every member of a band there picked up and thrown in the air was absolutely mental. For a tiny room at the top of a shitty bar, the sound was great and managed to pull up some highly bewildered looking students from downstairs. Hopefully, Attack! Vipers! will be coming to the all dayer in March, as they are certainly not to be missed.